Coping With Grief
2 Samuel 12:16-23
Few stories of someoneís grief are as
touching as that of Horatio C. Spafford,
who lived from 1828-1888. Spafford
had known peaceful and happy days as a
successful attorney in Chicago. He
was the father of four daughters, an
active member of the Presbyterian Church,
and a loyal friend and supporter of D. L.
Moody and other evangelical leaders of his
day. Then, a series of calamities
began, starting with the great Chicago
fire of 1871 which wiped out the familyís
extensive real estate investments.
When Mr. Moody and his music associate,
Ira Sankey, left for Great Britain for an
evangelistic campaign, Spafford decided to
lift the spirits of his family by taking
them on a vacation to Europe. He
also planned to assist in the Moody-Sankey
meetings there. In November, 1873,
Spafford was detained by urgent business,
but he sent his wife and four daughters as
scheduled on the S.S. Ville du Harve,
planning to join them soon. Halfway
across the Atlantic, the ship was struck
by an English vessel and sank in 12
minutes. All four of the Spafford
daughters--Tanetta, Maggie, Annie and
Bessie--were among the 226 who drowned.
Mrs. Spafford was among the few who were
miraculously saved. Horatio
Spafford stood hour after hour on the deck
of the ship carrying him to rejoin his
sorrowing wife in Cardiff, Wales.
When the ship passed the approximate place
where his precious daughters had drowned,
Spafford received sustaining comfort from
God that enabled him to write, "When
sorrows like sea billows roll... It is
well with my soul." What a picture
of our hope!
When peace, like a river, attendeth my
way, when sorrows like sea billows
roll-Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me
to say, It is well with my soul. Tho
Satan should buffet, tho trials should
come, let this blest assurance control,
that Christ hath regarded my helpless
estate and shed His own blood for my soul.
And, Lord, haste the day when my faith
shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back
as a scroll: The trump shall resound
and the Lord shall descend, "Even
so"-it is well with my soul.
Chorus: It is well with my soul, it
is well, it is well with my soul.
Ask yourself if you can truthfully say,
"It is well with my soul," no matter what
the circumstances may be that surround
you. Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876 (Osbeck,
As we live, it becomes more and more
evident that tragedy and heartache are no
respecter of persons. It comes to us
all. But all may not deal with grief
in the same way. Why is it that some
let grief destroy them and others triumph
over it? As we consider the grief of
David concerning the loss of his infant
son we can draw several conclusions about
how to deal with our grief.
I. DONíT HOLD GRIEF IN (vv. 16-18).
ďDavid pleaded with God for the child.
He fasted and went into his house and
spent the nights lying on the ground.
The elders of his household stood beside
him to get him up from the ground, but he
refused, and he would not eat any food
with them. On the seventh day the
child died. Davidís servants were
afraid to tell him that the child was
dead, for they thought, "While the child
was still living, we spoke to David but he
would not listen to us. How can we
tell him the child is dead? He may
do something desperate.Ē
A. Donít expect everyone to understand
your griefóit is unique to you.
Author Edgar Jackson poignantly described
grief when he wrote: ďGrief is a
young widow trying to raise her three
children, alone. Grief is the man so
filled with shocked uncertainty and
confusion that he strikes out at the
nearest person. Grief is a mother
walking daily to a nearby cemetery to
stand quietly and alone a few moments
before going about the task of the day.
She knows that a part of her is in the
cemetery, just as a part of her is in her
daily work. Grief is a silent, knife
like terror and sadness that comes a
hundred times a day, when you start to
speak to someone who is no longer there.
Grief is the emptiness that comes when you
eat alone after eating with another for
many years. Grief is teaching
yourself to go to bed without saying
goodnight to the one who has died.
Grief is the helpless wishing that things
were different when you know they are not
and never will be again. Grief is a
whole cluster of adjustments,
apprehensions, and uncertainties that
strike life in its forward progress and
make it difficult to redirect the energies
of life. (Leadership, Vol. 5, no.1)
B. Donít allow anyone to judge your
griefóGod understands and that is enough.
II. DONíT LET GRIEF FIND A HOME (vv.
David noticed that his servants were
whispering among themselves and he
realized the child was dead. "Is the
child dead?" he asked. "Yes," they
replied, "he is dead." Then David
got up from the ground. After he had
washed, put on lotions and changed his
clothes, he went into the house of the
LORD and worshiped. Then he went to
his own house, and at his request they
served him food, and he ate.
A. We can grieve just so long until it
begins to hurt us.
Walter Brueggemann writes, "Davidís
reaction to the death of his child ... is
an act of profound faith in the face of
the most precious tabus of his people....
David had discerned, for whatever reasons,
that the issues of his life are not to be
found in cringing fear before the powers
of death, but in his ability to embrace
and abandon, to love and to leave; to take
life as it comes, not with indifference
but with freedom, not with callousness but
with buoyancy." (In Man We Trust:
The Neglected Side of Biblical Faith
[Atlanta: John Knox, 1972], p. 36)
C. We must use our grief to deal with our
loss and then leave it behind.
Iíve always said that the saddest part of
death for those left behind is that life
goes on without pausing for even a moment.
Maybe thatís good in some ways.
David realized that there came a point at
which he had to reconcile himself to the
loss and move on. It wasnít that he
was callous, on the contrary, he was
deeply affected. But he realized
that life continues on.
III. DONíT LOSE HOPE (vv. 22-23).
He answered, "While the child was still
alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, `Who
knows? The LORD may be gracious to
me and let the child live.í But now
that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I
bring him back again? I will go to
him, but he will not return to me."
A. Davidís prayers were not answered, as
he wanted. He prayed because there
was a chance. There was a present hope.
And as long as hope existed in the here
and now he sought God.
B. However, David knew that this is not
all there is to our existence. His
child had gone straight to paradise.
His weeping was not for his child as much
as it was for himself. He wanted the
child here with him, but knew that his
absence here would not prevent a future
Some years ago Alexander Wollcott
described a scene in a New York hospital
where a grief-stricken mother sat in the
hospital lounge in stunned silence, tears
streaming down her cheeks. She had just
lost her only child and she was gazing
blindly into space while the head nurse
talked to her, simply because it was the
duty of the head nurse to talk in such
"Did Mrs. Norris notice the shabby little
boy sitting in the hall just next to her
No, Mrs. Norris had not noticed him.
"There," continued the head nurse, "there
is a case. That little boyís mother
is a young French woman who was brought in
a week ago by ambulance from their shabby
one-room apartment to which they had
gravitated when they came to this country
scarcely three months ago. They had
lost all their people in the old country
and knew nobody here. The two had
only each other. Every day that lad
has come and sat there from sunup to
sundown in the vain hope that she would
awaken and speak to him. Now, he has
no home at all!"
Mrs. Norris was listening now. So
the nurse went on, "Fifteen minutes
ago that little mother died, dropped off
like a pebble in the boundless ocean, and
now it is my duty to go out and tell that
little fellow that, at the age of seven,
he is all alone in the world." The
head nurse paused, then turned plaintively
to Mrs. Norris. "I donít suppose,"
she said hesitantly, "I donít
suppose that you would go out and tell him
What happened in the next few moments is
something that you remember forever.
Mrs. Norris stood up, dried her tears,
went out and put her arms around the lad
and led that homeless child off to her
childless home, and in the darkness they
both knew they had become lights to each
other! (Hewett, 265-6)
One of the many conclusions at which I
have arrived is that we need to allow God
to use our grief and pain to help others.
Like the mother who found someone to help
in the form of a little orphaned boy, so
God wants us to resist the urge to hold
onto our pain. Instead, He wants us
look for someone to help, to console and
to lift out of their pain. In doing so we
will be healed of our own hurt.
The Holy Spirit is challenging us today to
look beyond ourselves and see the needs in
the lives of others that are grieving.
Then again, maybe we are the ones who are
holding onto unshared grief from years
gone by. The Lord can help you to
triumph over it today.
1999 by Mark Beaird